Appearing alongside Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel on Wednesday evening for their first live performance as the Fugees in 15 years, Ms. Lauryn Hill reminded the 3,000 guests in attendance at the New York City rooftop venue Pier 17 what a miracle it was for them to be standing there.
“There was destiny in us coming together, there was destiny in the touring, and there was destiny in the people we inspired,” Hill told the crowd, briefly recounting the “complicated and beautiful” history of the three-piece group. It was also destiny, then, that reunited the group to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of their classic sophomore album The Score long after they had split.
Hosted in partnership with Global Citizen and Live Nation, the pop-up New York event marked the soft launch of the Fugees’ Diaspora Calling reunion tour, which officially begins in November. The location of the concert, announced alongside the tour on Tuesday, was kept under wraps from the general public until attendees received ticket confirmation from Global Citizen just hours before the show’s doors were set to open at 6 p.m.
Three hours after fans began loading in for the event, the crowd was still being kept busy by Hill’s longtime tour companion DJ Reborn, their energy increasingly zapped with each passing song. Tickets for the free show pledged a 7 p.m. start time that soon shifted to an 8:30 p.m. start for the DJ and a nearly 10 p.m. start for the Fugees. The tardiness was owed in part to a delayed soundcheck that pushed back the entry time half an hour. Also, punctuality has quite famously never been Hill’s strong suit. At a certain point, she stops being considered late and the fans are simply early.
When the Fugees set kicked off with a seamless transition from the theatrical introduction “The Score” into “How Many Mics,” the wavering fans erupted. It was almost easy to forget the size of the crowd; the group performed just as much to each other as they did to the audience. At times, they huddled together, carving space for intimacy as if there weren’t thousands in front of them and even more set to view the performance when it airs as part of Global Citizen Live on September 25th.
Hammering through two major highlights of The Score, “Zealots” and “Fu-Gee-La,” the Fugees fostered an electricity between them that was as collaborative as it was competitive. The trio didn’t miss a beat as they traded bar-for-bar and filled in ad-libs with succinct synergy. If you didn’t know better, you’d never guess more than a decade had passed since they’d last shared a stage.
Halfway through the set, Jean praised a freestyle Hill had uploaded to Instagram weeks ago before delving into his own. The topic of the rapper’s home country of Haiti took precedence over the few other topics slotted into his solo performance. “President Biden, I want you to do me a favor,” he slowed down to speak at one point, pushing for the reversal of the administration’s immigration policy blocking Haitian asylum seekers. “Give the Haitians a pass like you did with the people coming from Afghanistan.” Throughout the performance, Jean wore a Haitian flag as a bandana while fans in the audience waved their own.
The Fugees’ reunion show was too brief to ever feel too heavy. The group performed for around 45 minutes, if that, and regarded the show as a preview of the full tour, which they shared is still in the development phase. The 12-date tour will be held in arenas in major U.S. cities including Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Newark, and Washington, D.C., with additional shows in Paris and London as well as cities in Nigeria and Ghana.
The group placed their true hits on the latter half of the set, stacking “Killing Me Softly With His Song” against “Ready or Not” at the discretion of Hill, who declined to perform a freestyle of her own in favor of reminiscing about the past 25 years of the Fugees. “I had to take a hiatus,” she said, recalling having been on the road since the age of 18 and in the studio years before that. “I had to experience the youth I missed.”
Before jumping into the latter song, Jean prompted the audience to put their lighters up. The only hiccup was that the cellphones that have come to replace the lighter in concert settings were locked away in Yondr pouches as a means of maintaining the event’s feeling of exclusivity. But the demographic of the audience spanned generations, so a few BIC lighters did flicker after all.
The trio wrapped with a warm performance of The Score’s penultimate track “No Woman No Cry” –- fitting as the song opens as a dedication to refugees across the world. In less than an hour, Jean, Hill, and Michel served as physical, breathing manifestations of the impact and influence of their work as musicians. With thousands of fans showing up on a few hours’ notice -– including Busta Rhymes and Miguel –– the Fugees weren’t too humble to slip in a brag about the role they played in making hip-hop a global phenomenon, and the influence they continue to have two and a half decades later.
As the rooftop cleared out at the end of the set, a group of fans clamored around the stage in hopes of snagging one of the few setlists that had been taped around the stage. A few were lucky to catch the crumpled-up paper as it was thrown into the cluster, including one fan dressed head to toe in Haitian flag-branded clothing. Others waited by the barricade as they took turns having their photos taken with the printed list of songs –– blown away despite the late start and the short set because they were just happy to have been there.
“Respect the miracle of this union,” Hill reminded the audience during the knockout reunion set. “Respect that we can get on this stage and still do this.”